Tag Archives: Man Booker Prize

Prequel to Jane Eyre – The Wide Sargasso Sea

214fjjbbskl-_ac_ul160_  In her prelude to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, The Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys offers the backstory of the first Mrs. Rochester, the madwoman in the attic who destroys Thornfield Hall and herself by fire.  Although the book was published fifty years ago, Rhys’s story is a good reminder the classics have hidden secrets: critical analysts sometimes refer to Bertha as Jane’s alter ego.  After seeing the book on a list of favorites by a fellow reader, I decided to reread this short book and found myself quickly caught up in its fervor.

 In Part One, set in Jamaica, Antoinette, the Creole daughter of a white slave owner, later called Bertha by her English husband, tells the story of her sad childhood. Lonely and rejected by her mother, and running wild after her father dies, she lives in poverty until her mother remarries.   She survives the fire set by an angry mob of locals, destroying her childhood plantation home and driving her mother to madness, and is sent off to a convent. When she is seventeen, her fortune attracts a tall, second son of an Englishman, with no inheritance of his own. Antoinette has a sense of foreboding and imagines she cannot escape her fate.

Part Two begins with Antoinette’s husband narrating the honeymoon, soon to be interrupted by a strange letter revealing the horrors of Antoinette’s background.  Never feeling comfortable in the tropical surroundings of his wife’s home,  Rochester now becomes cold and distant. In a sad and pathetic moment, Rhys has Antoinette enlisting  the voodoo magic of her childhood caregiver to remedy her situation. But her fortune now belongs to her husband, who wants to return to England.

In Part Three, Antoinette’s perspective returns, though she is now living as the quarantined Bertha in Thornfield’s drafty attic.  This section is the shortest, cleverly connecting to Bronte’s book.  Nowhere in the text of her novel does Rhys mention Rochester by name, but she clearly connects to him in the end, as Bertha dreams of setting fire to Thornfield and ending her miserable life.

In Jane Eyre, Bertha raves and screams, but in The Wide Sargasso Sea, Rhys gives her a voice.   In Rhys’s novel, she is the victim of oppression, treated as if she were a ‘white cockroach’ by her family’s black servants, and rejected by Rochester.  Like Jane, she had her own dreams.

The Wide Sargasso Sea won the Cheltenham Booker Prize in 2006.  The Cheltenham Prize, created as a companion to the Man Booker, identifies who might have won the Prize if it had existed a century earlier. For a list of the winning books, click on Book Awards: Cheltenham Booker Prize.  You might find another old book worth a second read.  

And the Winner Is

The Man Booker Prize winner for 2016 is The Sellout. 9781250083258_p0_v5_s192x300

Beatty has been compared to Jonathan Swift for his satirical modest proposal of restoring slavery and segregation in his defunct fictional town of Dickens.  I started to read the book when it won the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction, but I did not get very far into it before deciding to return it to the library.  Not for everyone – unless you are on the Booker committee – Beatty’s language has been compared to a Richard Pryor comedy routine – acerbic in its humor.

Beatty is the first American to win the prestigious Prize.  His other books include The White Boy Shuffle, Tuff, and Slumberland.

Although The Sellout won today, I’m saving my energy for others on the list.  Have you read it?

 

The Other Side of the Bridge

9780385340373_p0_v1_s192x300  Steadily and quietly, Mary Lawson affirms the continuity of life in the remote Northern Canadian town of Struan in The Other Side of the Bridge.  Despite the hardships of severe weather, the war, farm life, and the love/hate relationship of two brothers, the strength and forthrightness of its people forge a universal tale, with suspense and romance, guaranteed to keep you riveted to the page.

Across two generations, Lawson examines the relationship of two brothers, Arthur and Jake Dunn, growing up on a farm in the 1930s before the war.  Ian Christopherson, a smart high school student and the son of the small town doctor, connects to the brothers twenty years later when he gets a summer job plowing the Dunn farm.  By alternating across time zones between Ian’s story with Arthur as a grown man with three children in the present and Arthur’s life as a boy in the past, Lawson cleverly manages to maintain suspense – despite the reader knowing some of how the story will turn out.

The three main characters each follow a predictable type:  Arthur is the good but slow, plodding older brother who prefers plowing behind the horses to doing schoolwork; Jacob is the diabolical  younger, smart, handsome rake who can charm anyone; Ian is the love-struck adolescent, scarred by the desertion of his mother, who chafes at the town’s expectations to follow his father’s footsteps as the town’s next doctor.  After establishing the stereotype, however, Lawson breaks the mold for each of them.

The best part of reading one of Lawson’s stories is getting to know her characters.  After awhile, they become so real, you will be engulfed in their lives and feel their insecurities as your own.  Although the outcome of Ian’s struggle to grow up is predictable, how he gets there is still satisfying.  The constant sibling rivalry between Art and Jake fuels the plot, providing some moments of humor, but more often an anxious recognition of their competition for their parents’ love and their understanding of each other.

Lawson punctuates her storytelling with shocking incidents –  tragedy, resentment and betrayal, but in the end decency and goodwill win out – with humanity pulling all the story threads together.

The Other Side of the Bridge had the well-deserved honor of being long listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2006.

The Many – Suspense on the Man Booker Longlist

TheMany11       Throughout Wyl Menmuir’s short novel – The Many – Gothic undertones play on scenes full of dark and murky possibilities.  A sense of foreboding permeates the narrative, and Daphne du Maurier’s Cornwall with an abandoned house on the coast helps to set the scene.

The narrative alternates between the two main characters: Ethan, a local fisherman, and Timothy, an outsider who is renovating the old house left empty by the death of Ethan’s friend Perran for ten years.  Each character is battling personal demons, and as it progresses the story evolves into a fable with strange symbolism.

Death and grief figure prominently – the death of Perran, leaving a hole in the fishing community  so large the inhabitants fight to preserve his memory yet refuse to talk about him to Timothy – even resenting Timothy’s attempts to restore his old house.  When Timothy’s struggle with the death of his infant son surfaces later, with obscure dream sequences and haunting memories, the story falls away and changes – just like the flooding sea overtakes the village in the end. Suddenly, the reader must rethink the meaning of everything – the dead fish killed by chemicals, the blockade of large ships circling and imprisoning the cove, the mysterious woman in the gray suit who patiently watches from afar.  Are they more than they seem?  What do they represent in Timothy’s mind?  What is their connection to his solitude and his haunted existence?

Timothy struggles with the question the villagers do not want to hear or answer – “Who is Perran?”  And, the unspoken question – Why did he die?  When the name of his dead son is revealed, the reader cannot help but wonder if the village and the broken house were all a reason for trying to explain the unexplainable.

The Many is a gripping story, but the questions it raises and leaves unanswered could provoke a lively discussion, and the reader may need to reread this short book several times before getting close to understanding all of its complexity.

The Man Booker Baker’s Dozen

Unknown The anticipated Man Booker Longlist announced today has a few familiar titles but some books are not yet published in the United States.  Thirteen books made the prestigious list.

Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, a satirical assessment of racism in the United States, tops the list.  The winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, Beatty’s novel uses a Jonathan Swift premise in his character’s modest proposal to bring back segregation and slavery.

Four other American novels on the list include Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton.  The author of Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys, Strout returns with a short but powerful novel as she tells the story of suffering and relationships.

Ottessa Moshfegh’s suspenseful tale, Eileen, also examines a lonely woman – this one works in a boys’ prison.  Virginia Reeves uses the setting of prison – this one in Alabama in Work Like Any Other, and David Means’ Hystopia imagines a third term for former President John F. Kennedy.

From the United Kingdom, another mother-daughter relationship is explored in Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk,  Graeme Macrae Burnet’s psychological thriller His Bloody Project looks for motivation behind a murder, Ian McGuire’s The North Water has a suspenseful journey of a  ruined doctor volunteering on a whaling ship, and Wyl Menmuir’s The Many has a strange mystery in a coastal village.

The Schooldays of Jesus from Australian Nobel prize winning author J.M. Coetzee will be published in the United States in February, 2017.  David Salzay’s All That Man, set in Prague,  will be published in October, 2016.

Canadian Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing centers on the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 China. From the United Kingdom, A.L. Kennedy’s Serious Sweet offers “a day in the life of London lonely hearts.”  Both are not yet released in the United States.

Thirteen books to digest before the committee proclaims the short list in September, and the winner in October.